order online: bits of deadly virii

The Guardian reports they ordered a chunk of the smallpox virus DNA sequence online from a molecular biology supply company. It's not as dire as it might sound: you gotta have graduate-level expertise and more than a kitchen sink to recombine DNA sequences. What was interesting was that there is no across-the-board screening of all material sent out. The company that provided the DNA don't screen sequence below 100 bp against a database of potentially harmful organisms, and there's no standard regulations about the screening process. The Guardian ordered their sequence with a couple stop codons added to comply with safety and legal regulations, but it will be interesting to see if there are any developments from this, and also, how the rest of the media picks up on it.

ETA 15/7: Nature discusses the article and frowns upon the Guardian, highlighting that ordering bits of DNA is routine for the research community even though it might shock the general public, and pretty much disapproves of such a "stunt". I still think the attention it draws to the inconsistencies in the regulatory process is the interesting point. And also? Of course Gn. Public might be suprised by what you can buy over the internet–there's no need to flash your boffin-club badge about it and act all jaded, Nature Editors.

when drug trials go wrong

The Beeb continues to report on the condition of the six young men who participated in a drug trial and are in intensive care. There’s an accompanying article interviewing a bloke who was due to take part, where he speaks about the motivations and incentives that are behind why men take part in these trials. There’s often a lot of money involved, and it must be very tempting.

I say must be, because as a woman, my chance to take part in a clinical drug trial (the Phase I, experimental kind) is virtually nonexistent. Dave from Bristol clearly needs to know this (scroll down). The requirements are overwhelming sensible: young and healthy bodies required for the initial rounds. Women are considered more problematic than men because we could be pregnant, or might want to get pregnant at some point, and drug companies don’t want to get sued for impeding fertility.

This has always irked me. Firstly, anyone pregnant or at risk of pregnancy (that would be carried to term)–of course they shouldn’t do a drug trial. Common sense. But presumably there may also be effects on male fertility as unforeseen as those on female fertility from new drug treatments. I can’t comment on the degree of “informed” and “consent” in informed consent in these things, as, well, I’ve not taken part. But presumably this is an issue?

Secondly–and this is an issue that goes beyond gender–it’s representative of a deeply embedded conception of the young man as the default model, medically speaking. I got cranky at my doctor a few months ago when she couldn’t tell me if a consistent pattern of change in my cycle was linked to coming off a (very very common) drug. Fine, I thought, I can search PubMed and nyah to to the overworked NHS. There was not one mention of cycle change patterns beyond “a number of women reported changes to cycle length”. This, if I recall correctly, in a thousand-odd sample.
Anyhow: best wishes to the men and their loved ones. I wish the slightly hysterical tinge to some of the reporting was tempered by a statistic or two showing the number of drug trials per year and the percentage–which I am certain must be low–that result in serious adverse reactions.

lost notes of royal society

Wow. The 1661-1682 minutes of The Royal Society were found in a Hampshire home and are up for auction at Bonhams on the 28th of March. They’re expected to fetch a million pounds, which the Royal Society doesn’t have.

The unnamed family in whose home they were found didn’t know what they had, and claim the notes have been been in the family for as long as they can remember.

I find it a bit distasteful that these important records are going up for auction without giving the RS time to raise funds and/or to study them thoroughly. I hope someone comes through with the dosh and bequeaths them back to the source.